Why I love kids

They are cute, duh. But also because:

they are genuine fans. This little boy asked, “How does it feel to recite the Green Lantern oath.”

…they are shy. A story from Dylan Meconis’s Flickr SDCC sketches:

The child’s shy glances at Gumby were noted by Gumby’s keen handler. The gentleness of the approach and the tiny nod given in response to “Would you like to hug Gumby?” were just devastating.

…they can find the innocent core of things. They see things through less corrupt eyes with less baggage. A four-year-old can play Grand Theft Auto and think it’s a game about arresting bad guys, taking people to the hospital in the ambulance, and putting out fires.

…they become obssessed with certain things (from urinals to Beethoven sonatas) and help us to see the world through different lenses.

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Getting past the plateau

I’ve reached a Green-Girl Plateau of sorts. Up until now, the changes I’ve had to make to green my lifestyle have been fairly easy…or at least made sense within my lifestyle: reusable water bottle, reusable shopping bags, buying local produce, going to the farmer’s market, not eating meat, turning off the lights when I’m not in the room, refusing any plastic bag I can, avoiding excess packaging, consuming less.

Now my own personal “next steps” feel BIG.

  • Become a complete vegetarian. No fish.
  • No more plastic. For real. All reusable containers and bulk and better preparedness and turning down those little plastic spoons that come with free samples. (gradually making good progress on this front)
  • Lots less packaged snack and frozen foods. And no soy milk…? (packaging)
  • Lots more local foods and shopping at the farmer’s market. (Which has been a delight here in South Pasadena, since I can walk, and the produce is abundant, and it’s just worked out overall in our schedule.)
  • Turn off my laptop each and every night, so that I can unplug it. What this actually means is reigning in my computer usage and multi-windows/tabs craziness, so that I am able to turn off my laptop.
  • No car.

Say whaaaat? No car?! In Texas?? Try no car in Los Angeles. Which is what I’ve been doing, and it hasn’t been bad. True, I’m not getting to sight-see a lot of the city, but I don’t think I mind. This place is HUGE!

It’s interesting how I have created a mental map of our little South Pasadena neighborhood as a pedestrian and as a public transit user. If I had had a car, my experience here and my view of the area would be completely different. The places on my radar are those I can get to by foot or by train. I see more of the neighborhood because I have to walk to get to places. And since I can’t drive to any randomly Yelped or Googled destination, I haven’t been searching for things online, so I don’t really know what I’m missing.

It’s all about first impressions, how one starts, one’s initial ideas about a place, one’s anchors, so to speak. I started here without a car, I knew that coming in, and I was completely fine with it—I wasn’t viewing it as a void or a deficiency. I just knew I’d have to get around during the week without motorized transportation—by walking and by taking the Metro. (And when Mike’s around, we scoot, but that also limits our driving to local roads and shorter distances.)

Luckily, our location is prime. (Particularly for my needs as a vacationing creative who needs access to free books.)

South Pasadena neighborhood

As I walked to the laundromat the other day, I realized that if I had had a car, I probably would have just driven or made some excuse to drive (tired! ha) or at least had an internal debate/guilt sesh about driving vs. walking. On the map above, it’s right across the street from Trader Joe’s.

Here’s a map of our last Austin residence and surrounding businesses. Though we walked a fair amount to the Quack’s Bakery area, we drove there a fair amount, too. And we definitely drove to HEB and Freebird’s more than we walked or biked. Which seems quite shameful to me now. But it’s because we learned that neighborhood and how to get to our common haunts through the lens of drivers and not as pedestrians/bikers. (I think the ability to walk through neighborhood sidewalks makes a big difference. 45th to get to HEB never felt pedestrian-friendly to me, and here in South Pasadena I don’t go east to Fair Oaks much even though it is a pretty short walk to dessert goodness at Phoenix Bakery.)

Austin neighborhood

Even if it’s gratifying to never have to worry about traffic or parking or the price of gas (literally and figuratively), driving is a very hard HABIT (addiction?!) to shake. My starting point mentally is a childhood spent in Houston, Texas. In a neighborhood where walking didn’t get you any place interesting or fun/safe to hang out in. Where you drove to get somewhere, and where you had to have a destination before you left the house. You didn’t just “go for a walk”…unless you were Grandma.

…There’s an internal rant going on in my head right now about how cities and sprawl and poor city planning have made it so difficult and actually discourage the use of any means of transportation besides vehicles. But I don’t want to go there right now. I just know that it takes more time, planning, and effort—a lot more—to get around without a car. A 12 minute drive to the Indonesian Festival happening today near K-Town in Los Angeles would take me 45 minutes on the Metro, 30 minutes scooting. The 45-minute Metro ride actually didn’t sound too bad in my head because I usually just take a book, but my friend’s reaction made it sound exorbitant. It’s a cultural thing as much as it is a personal decision. Hollywood makes it seem like lack of car = loser. From a merely practical level, living without a car can also feel like cutting out part of your social life. I admit I myself am guilty of not telling a friend about some social function or other because I knew we’d have to give him/her a ride along with the invite.

That’s one of the main reasons I’ve always wanted to live in New York City. Yeah, the subway can take the same amount of time and energy, and yeah it’s a pain sometimes. But at least there, everyone’s doing it. So it’s the norm. And you end up walking more because you have to. Because everyone has to.

But I’m in Austin for the next year, so I’ll have to make due. Luckily (ha), my brother totaled his car (he’s totally fine) and is now driving mine. Now, because I can (?!), I am seriously considering the idea of not owning a car when I get back. In my head, I’d share the car with my brother on weekends or some such arrangement. Also need to do some Carshare/Zipcar/Car-2-Go research. Unfortunately, my next place of residence is a little inconvenient in terms of walking to grocery stores or bus-riding downtown. I honestly think if I could live in a good neighborhood off a UT shuttle route and/or the 1 bus that goes downtown, I would be fine in Austin.

It’s about mindset, commitment and flexibility, and how you learn a new place…and a little bit of luck, i.e. finding a job that is on a convenient bus route or, even better yet, bikeable!

And it’s about plunging ahead and forging on, past the plateaus of comfort and convenience and default mindsets, cultural “norms” be damned.

(Dammit, does this mean I have to seriously try the whole living-without-a-car thing instead of just toying with the idea in my head…?)

Green Tip: Bring Your Own Bowl

Last night, we went to get frozen yogurt at the place around the block. It’s one of those where you self-serve from a selection of flavors and toppings. I felt sneaky—like I was doing something criminal—when I reached into my purse for the bowls we had brought.

On a previous trip, we had asked the two girls at the counter about using our own tupperware container because we were hoping they would deduct the weight of the container from the final product. They were confused about our question and one of them finally declared that we must use their provided (disposable) containers. Thus, we had a choice: forsake yogurt for the good of the planet? (Or rather forsake yogurt for the guilt of your inner green conscience?) We did. We went home sans yogurt. I guess that shows how far we’ve come—I don’t think we would have thought twice about staying and using a disposable container a year ago. (I have been reading a lot of Fake Plastic Fish and Burban Mom.)

Of course, it’s easier to make these enviro-friendly choices when you’re on your own. When we met up friends for yogurt another night, we used one of the disposable containers (but our own spoon). Because what’s the point of meeting up for dessert without the dessert and the conversation that dessert affords? On that particular night, I didn’t feel like being a dour party-poop kind of green girl.

Back to last night. We just went for it. Used our own bowls and our own spoons. Put them on their scales at the register like it was no big thing. And it wasn’t. The guy at the counter smiled like he approved and said simply, “I’ve never seen that before.”

It’s the age-old advice (that I’ve tested many a time as a photographer, journalist, or general nosy wanderer): Ask for forgiveness, not permission.

Just go for it.

(Insert Number) of Items or Less

One tip that stuck with me after I skimmed the intro of Everett Brogue’s e-book “The Art of Being Minimalist” was the 30-day waitlist. Instead of succumbing to impulse buys, put anything you want to buy over $20 on a 30-day waitlist. Odds are after some time has passed you probably won’t still want to buy it.

Case in point: The first week I was here in Pasadena, it was cold enough in the evenings to warrant jeans on our scooter rides. But I didn’t want to wear the one pair I had brought with me because I had endured a full day’s non-travel in them. My first thought? Buy another pair of jeans! But I remembered the 30-day idea and resisted the urge to shop. It’s now nearly a month later, and one pair of jeans has been more than enough—especially since the days are getting hotter. I hadn’t really “needed” another pair of jeans; I just didn’t want to do laundry.

For July and August, I’m in Pasadena, living out of one small suitcase of clothes. I could shop, but I am too lazy and too unemployed to do much of it. Plus, I don’t have room in my suitcase to haul any loot back with me. Thus, I am inadvertently yet enthusiastically participating in a minimalist clothing experiment.

This New York Times article featured sixitemsorless.com: an experiment, a challenge, an idea. “What do our clothes say about us? Why do spend so much time on what we wear? What happens when we don’t?”

I’m finding that I like wearing the same thing over and over again, and it makes getting dressed for the day easier. Granted, I don’t have to deal with “work clothes” right now, which makes the whole thing easier. And I have had a couple of days when I felt like I had nothing to wear…but in hindsight these were more issues of laundry frequency than wardrobe size.

Tops
Bottoms

Basically, 15 items (if you count the leggings as undergarments which are exempt):

  • 2 Threads 4 Thought tank tops (that are awesome and which I bought for $8 at Whole Foods and which I now wish I had bought more colors of)
  • 3 short-sleeved shirts
  • 2 longer-sleeved shirts (one not pictured)
  • 1 dress
  • 1 pair jeans + belt
  • 1 pair gray slacks
  • 1 pair gray casual pants (that roll up into capris)
  • 1 pair green capris
  • leggings
  • 1 gray floral skirt (with pockets!)(thrifted)
  • 1 tan skirt (with 1 handmade pocket)
  • 1 green hoodie (not shown)
  • 1 coral cardigan (not shown)

I have less clothes here than the boy does which is fun, because he always rolled his eyes (in the most loving way) at the many many containers full of clothing we had to move from apartment to apartment.

I could probably do with fewer “bottoms.” I pretty much wear a tank top and that tannish skirt every day. I had bought it right before our big Southeast Asia backpacking trip three years ago, thought it was too expensive ($19.99 at Target), and left it at home thinking I’d return it when I got back. It’s my favorite skirt now, especially after I sewed a pocket into it.

I think I’ve been trending this way for a long time now. In the spring, I had a “uniform” to wear to my teaching gigs (provided tshirt + jeans). I found myself throwing on the same outfit or variations of the same outfit during my non-teaching hours day after day. I was probably influenced from following The Uniform Project the entire year as well.

And I love the idea of buying only things that I really love and that fit me really well. I had a “love-for-sales” thrifty type of childhood shopping in Ross and TJ Maxx, so it’s hard for me to resist purchasing anything that fits me and that’s on sale. Additionally, I had a chubby adolescence, so  I’m still buying some items (namely jeans) that are too big for me because I haven’t figured out what the right fit means, even after all these years. (Yes, I’m slow–I don’t shop that often.)

It remains to be seen what will happen when I get back to Austin and my full-size wardrobe, but I think it’ll be safe to do another clean-out of the stuff I have in “storage” right now that I haven’t wanted to wear all summer.

And that striped t-shirt that I’ve been wanting and thinking about and mentioning to some people? Still holding out on it until I find the perfect one…and who knows, maybe the “need” for it will disappear after the trend disappears off blogs/magazines/screens of the season. The world is a little oversaturated with stripes these days anyway.

(Something that has been on a perpetual 30-day waitlist is a new handheld digital camera that’s not SLR; sorry but that Coolpix and its graininess and weird settings ain’t cutting it. I left my Nikon D40 SLR in Austin and am trying to figure out what my new relationship to photography is…but that’s a whole ‘nother story for a whole ‘nother post.)

Cook More: At-Home Quick Eats

I haven’t eaten at a fast food chain in a very very long time. My only exceptions are the intermittent ventures to local joints (P. Terry’s burgers, Tom’s Tabooley for falafel, Thundercloud’s veggie sandwich with hummus). And I only reluctantly consider fast food when I’m on the road traveling.

Main reasons?
I’m a vegetarian.
I try to eat healthy.
I watched Supersize Me.
I don’t really view it as ‘convenient’ anymore. (Because I dislike driving, and sometimes I’m lazier to get up and actually go somewhere.)
It’s greener because you can choose which ingredients you buy, and you don’t travel anywhere to eat it, and there’s no take-out packaging involved.

But what about those times when there’s no TIME to cook?

I hear you. There are days when I am too tired, too lazy, or in too much of a rush to put together a square meal. But I still try to eat as best I can. It helps if there’s less junk food in the house to begin with (note to self the next time I reach for a bag of chips or cookies at the market). Here’s a brainstorm of things that I do to help make homemade meals happen, even if I’m feeling uninspired, lazy, or out of time:

Leftovers
Plan ahead, overcook, ’nuff said. I love leftovers!

Eggs
The incredible edible egg to the rescue.
Scrambled or fried egg whites + bread or rice.
Add beans, cheese, tomatoes, frozen veggies, etc. for a great meal.

Sandwiches
Are easy to make at home. If you know your week is going to be busy, stock up on sandwich food: fresh bread, tomatoes, bell peppers, olives, sliced cheese, deli meats, marinated tofu slices, greens, sprouts,…whatever floats your sandwich boat.

Burgers
Same as above. Microwaving a quick veggie patty and adding it onto fresh bread with a slice of tomato, cheese, spinach, and mushrooms is quicker and healthier than finding the nearest drive-thru. It’s one of my favorite on-the-run and balanced meals. (New questions about the health of too many processed soy products, so I’m weaning myself off frozen soy meat substitutes…but not completely yet.)

PB&J
For those times when there is not a sprig of spinach or nary a tomato to be found in your crisper. I’m not saying eat this every day (also unhealthy in its own way), but it’s always an option. Also, PB and honey. Or PB and honey and bananas. Or PB and granola.

Rice
Rice cooker is my friend. Make a big pot, and you’ll have a base for a decent meal. Add: canned veggies, canned beans, steamed/frozen veggies, and/or egg. Microwaved pasta sauce and frozen veggie sausages also work if you’re feeling like a bachelor(ette). Mike just bought a 2-cup Zojirushi ricecooker that has settings for white/mixed rice, brown rice, and quick. The brown rice comes out as tender as white, and we’ve successfully made quinoa in it as well.

Miso Soup
Buy the paste in the refrigerated section of a local Asian grocery store, and boil the following ingredients in descending order depending on the cooking times marked on the packages, usually: water or stock, dumplings, frozen veggies or fresh (like boy choy, spinach, mushrooms), noodles (soba are quick and delicious), miso, egg (optional). Garnish with green onions and/or sesame oil.

Other noodle soups
Use stock instead of miso. Same ingredient and garnish options. Even if I end up using Ramen noodles, I still add my own veggies, and I generally use half of the soup packet mixture if I use it at all.

Pasta
Start a pot of water boiling when you walk in the door!

Don’t underestimate the power of momentum. Boiling water’ll get the momentum going. You can do other things around the house while the water is boiling (set a timer if you’re apt to forget), and you can chop and figure out what to top the pasta with as it’s cooking. Canned tomatoes make a pretty quick sauce with garlic, onions, and whatever veggies you have handy, but if you need to use them, jarred pasta sauces are even quicker. Just a handful of mushrooms or a few olives will make it feel like a homemade meal…because it will be. Serve with bread or salad for extra hardiness.

Soba Noodles
Ditto with the boiling water. Add some frozen edamame or other veggies to the water before you add the noodles. Mix with a sauce of peanut butter + hoisin, crushed peanuts, and green onions. It’s delicious.

Breakfast All Day
I love breakfast. That’s why eggs is so high on this list. But if you really don’t feel like cooking, you can at least consider eating another healthy breakfast. Toast + eggs + frozen breakfast sausages. Oatmeal + sunflower seeds and raisins. Cereal + fruit. There are all sorts of other quick breakfast foods that are pretty easy to make at home: breakfast tacos, migas (eggs + salsa + tortilla chips), fritatta, pancakes (if you always turn to the boxed mix, take a look at the ingredient list–you probably have it all in your pantry already)…list can go on.

Fruit
It’s my go-to dessert.

Salad
Here’s another blogger’s pep-talk to inspire your salad-making days again. The trick is to broaden your idea of what a “salad” should be.

Soup
Right now, I still rely on store-bought soups, but want to try making large batches on the weekend (esp. now that I have an immersion blender!). They are simple to reheat and easy to turn into a meal with the addition of rice or bread or a handful of veggies or cheese and crackers or…

Steam those veggies
Steaming veggies (or fish) takes a lot less time (and heat) than boiling or roasting. It’s healthier, and it’s less fuss than other cooking methods. Just set a timer if you’re apt to forget about the pot if you might, er, check your GoogleReader and then let the pot burn…like me, ahem, yeah…

Stir-fry or Fried Rice
My post. Bittman post. Not Eating Out in New York post. Lunch at Sixpoint post. Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution inspired post.

Tacos
Like a stir-fry wrapped in tortillas. Plus salsa and beans. There’s another version that is fun to try: torta shell + canned refried beans + queso fresco. Quesadillas are also simpler than you would think. Heat both sides of a tortilla in a pan. Set aside. Heat another one and on its second side, sprinkle with cheese. Add beans/drained pre-cooked veggies. Sprinkle with more cheese and top with the pre-heated tortilla. Cut with pizza roller. Serve with salsa and guac.

Read cooking blogs
I think the more you read and think about food on a daily basis, the easier it becomes to incorporate cooking into your daily routine. The myths of “cooking = hard” or “cooking = time-consuming” get smashed, and it starts to become habit to start thinking “ingredients in fridge = homemade meal.” I’m getting hungry writing this post, so I’m off to eat…something…

Funny thing is, this list of “quick eats” makes up a large portion of my meals. It says something about my relationship with cooking: quick, easy, takes advantage of ingredients I have on hand rather than buying ingredients to make a certain recipe, flexible guidelines and adaptable techniques rather than to-the-number recipes. I’m cool with that!

The Fun Theory

The Fun Theory (“an initiative of Volkswagen”?) believes that “the easiest way to change people’s behaviour for the better is by making it fun to do.”

The world’s deepest bin makes throwing your rubbish away more fun.

Piano stairs encouraged people to take the stairs over the escalator.

The bottle bank arcade turns recycling into a game.

Users can submit more ideas at TheFunTheory.com. Fun is definitely an element to consider in designing for change—even if we can’t rely on it to create revolutions.

[via It’s Nice That]